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Last week on this blog I began exploring what I see as an emerging videogame genre that I call VideoDreams. Some examples of VideoDreams are Proteus, Pixejunk 4am, Panoramical, Frequency Domain, and our own experiment, SoundSelf. If you know of other VideoDreams, please let me know, as I would like to play them.
As a VideoDream developer myself, I'm interested in the patterns unifying the dream-like experiences that have been most inspiring to me. I began last week looking at explorative gameplay. This week I'll be exploring two unique ways that VideoDreams facilitate a sensually powerful moment with systems that don't necessitate, or even outright discourage, an intellectual engagement.
Rejection of Implicit or Explicit Goals
Goals are almost completely taken for granted in computer-programmed self-contained interactive-experiences (erm... videogames). Given all of the possible enriching interactive experiences one can imagine though, why have we settled so comfortably on goals as the backbone of player experience - rather than experience as the backbone of player experience and goals as a useful tool for facilitating certain experiences? I suspect this is because computer-programmed self-contained interactive-experiences (blah blah videogames) are necessarily framed by rules and systems from creation by nature of being computer-programmed, so it's an elegant step to make player experience consciously focused on exploiting those rules and systems.
Videodreams reject implicit or explicit goals and focus the player's awareness on the present, or at least the near-present. This is not necessarily an outright rejection of goals, but a rethinking of how goals fit into the overall experience. In Proteus, the player may choose a free flow of self-defined goals like "I want to get to the top of this hill" and then "I want to see where this frog is going", but because the system does not provide extrinsic valuation of these short-term goals, they are subject to the player's whimsy and pleasure.
It is currently my belief that any goal, even player-defined ones, draw the player into thinking about the future rather than staying grounded in sensuous appreciation of the moment. Creating an experience where even player-defined goals evaporate as quickly as they form is one of our goals in developing SoundSelf. Whether or not we can sustain the player's sense of wonder while limiting dramatic use of anticipation and expectation, though, has yet to be seen. Can we be simultaneously zen and awesome?
Rejection of Implicit or Explicit Meaning
As leaving behind implicit or explicit goals has given the player room to follow their whimsy, so leaving behind implicit and explicit meaning gives them room to provide their own context. Save for UI elements, these games reject symbolism and intentional meaning in favor of hollow sounds and shapes. It's interesting to me that of the games I've listed, only Proteus includes explicit recognizable forms (trees, flowers, hills).
All objects have the capacity to generate meaning. A number floating in the top left corner of the screen means (to most players) a score that spirals the player into focusing on making it go up. A gun means (to most players) an object for destructive interaction with an environment, and spirals the player into looking for things to shoot. Simple shapes aren't free from these meanings, but they bring less baggage.
Because a videodream attempts to engage the player sensuously, it's important the dream not distract the senses with an intellectual puzzle. The storytelling impulse is so strong in humans that the slightest loose-string invites intellectual spiraling that can draw the player's attention away from moment.
On the other hand, providing a blank canvas free from meaning offers the player an opportunity to project their mind and dance with a reflection of themselves.